Monstruck

11/15/2016 02:44 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2016
NASA photo.

In the dream I dreamed that I was the cavalier with the enormous nose.

“What hour? What country’s this? What day? What season?” I mused. These were the early hours of 14 November, 2016. A warm winter in Upstate New York.

My five-year-old son’s heel dug into my ribs, pushing me toward the edge of the bed.

In the dream, my dead brother Kevin was De Guiche: “It’s not just a moon, sir. It’s a Supermoon!”

“I’m completely dazed!” I replied, opening my eyes a crack. Though the digital clock read “3:45,” moonlight so bright streamed through the window that I gasped. My wife muttered questioningly. “It’s okay,” I said, swinging my legs out of the bed. She turned over and went back to sleep. I glanced at my youngest son. An hour or two earlier, the moonlight had awakened him, and he had launched himself (preceded by the pounding of his small feet on the floor as he ran from his room to ours) into our bed, there to create the crossbar in the letter H between his parents. Tenderly, I folded the covers over his chest, fumbled for my glasses, found them, placed them on my nose, and reached for my phone. I ran my other hand through my hair and remembered my next line: “Like a bomb, I fell from the moon!”

I’d gone to bed knowing that there would be a lunar event; my subconscious had obliged by casting me in a summer stock staging of the moon madness scene of Rostand’s play. It had ended badly, of course. I was awake, now, and with consciousness’ return the dread I’d been feeling for days flowed back out of my subconscious like a stain. Quietly, I crept down the stairs, fished by memory with my feet for my slippers under the piano, turned on the coffee maker, and looked out the kitchen window at the largest moon to be seen since 1948. Nimbus clung around the bare branches of the trees. The streetlamp across the way flickered pinkly before dying. After a few minutes, the coffee maker sputtered and wheezed; I poured myself a cup and carried it out into the backyard.

It was the birthdate of Aaron Copland, America’s greatest composer, a Jew from Brooklyn who—in adroitly tossing together during the 40s some cowboy songs, good Gallic Boulanger sauce and some spicy Stravinsky harmonies—invented an Americana salad so durable that it is as patriotic as a portrait of Lincoln and apple pie. By all firsthand accounts, whether they be those of his protégé David Del Tredici, his younger friend and colleague Leonard Bernstein, an even younger Ned Rorem, or even the acerbic recollections of David Diamond, he was a decent and humane man. I met him at Tanglewood in summer 1986, and sat with him in the shed as he listened to Lenny conduct his Symphony No. 3, turning his head slightly to me every few minutes, smiling sweetly, and asking me gently, quietly, “What is the year? What summer is this?” His tears.

The harder truth was that it was also the birthdate of the evil, alcoholic demagogue Joseph McCarthy, a man reared like myself in Wisconsin, of all places the birthplace also of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette Senior, born a Republican, founder of the Progressive Party, civil rights and anti-war activist, about whom I also learned in grade school. The current governor, Scott Walker, for whom I have no admiration, couldn’t manage to graduate from Marquette University; McCarthy, at least, graduated before serving (poorly) as a judge, falsifying war injuries to garner medals as a marine, and slithering, asp-like, into the cathedral of politics, from whose pulpit he preached fear and hate, managing nearly to ruin the lives of many of the artists whose work has inspired me most for the past forty years.

It was also the anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s dramatic last moment debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943. Would I even have become a composer myself had I not thrilled to the sight of the Jets flying across the screen of the Oriental Landmark Theater as a teenager, Jerome Robbins’ moves electrifying Bernstein’s lightning-in-a-bottle score? Had he not written to my Mother when I was fifteen and decreed, Zeus-like, that I was indeed “the Real Thing, a composer,” would I have come to the coast at all I wonder?

The harder truth is that it was also the day that one Steven Bannon, an openly anti-Semitic man, was named chief counselor to an American President-elect of little subtlety, poorly-read, poorly-educated, with not a sliver of experience as a politician, lawyer, or as a military service man. A golden-spoon rich kid opportunist who told poor people that the fact they were badly educated was the fault of the educated people that they resented had found a neat scapegoat.

Shivering, I poured what was left of the now cold coffee on the grass and headed back in. Seated at the computer in the kitchen, I surfed quickly through the digital front pages of Le Monde, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. The cyclic, orbital nature of these harsh dichotomies illustrate Santayana's dictum that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but we're into fouler stuff now. Now our Facebook timelines deliver to our “smart” phones “truths” calculated by special algorithms to entertain us, to reinforce our Weltanschauungs. The "big lie" is now comprised of countless little self-exculpatory, self-justifications for why the “other” guy is “better off.”

I checked into Facebook. Dear friend Lara Downes saw that I was online and sent me the text of an article she was working on about the election. In it, she described that, on election night, her mother "kissed [her] goodbye, and said, “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I’m so sorry for all of you.”

I rose from the computer, poured another cup of coffee, and stood in the door of the kitchen to watch the sun rise. To my amazement, a young deer strolled without fear right up to the door and looked in at me. "He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights," I recalled from Bible Study class. The deer is a sacred animal. It is a shaman, and often the bringer of tidings. It embodies the spirit of softness combined with strength, grace crossed with power. Why had he come on this, of all days?

I reached behind me for an apple. I expected the animal to bolt, but it remained, solid, self-assured and brave, a beautiful thing in itself. I opened the door and rolled the apple across the patio; it came to a stop between the deer’s hooves. It blinked, twice. It cocked its head over its shoulder as though listening for die ferne klang, dipped smoothly to scoop the apple up in its mouth, and walked slowly, with the stately grace of a queen, to the picket fence at the end of our yard. I looked away for a moment. When I looked back, it was gone.

“What hour? What country’s this? What day? What season?” I mused. History teaches us that this has all happened before and that it will happen again. The good and the evil share the same day. How can we possibly explain this to our children? Why must the moon be so very close to us in our time? I understand that it is our turn, but why must it drive us mad?

Photo Credit: Daron Hagen

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